Venus on ten years
Cast your mind back ten years to 2010. It was the year Graeme McDowell won the US Open, Chelsea beat Portsmouth 1-0 in the FA Cup final, and the Chicago Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup for the first time in 49 years. And the year a teenaged forward named Ross Venus made his debut for the Coventry Blaze.
A decade later that fresh-faced teenager has developed into a core part of the Blaze roster and is enjoying a career year in terms of goals and points. He is also celebrating ten years with the team with a testimonial season – at the ripe old age of 25.
Ice hockey has been a life-long love for Solihull-born Venus. “My dad used to take me to watch the Solihull Barons from when I was about three or four years old, and I absolutely loved it. I’d sit there and watch the games good as gold.
“I actually remember the time my dad asked me if I wanted to play ice hockey. I used to play football on a Wednesday night at my local school. We’d finished playing one day and were walking to the car, and my dad said to me ‘do you want to play ice hockey on a Wednesday instead of football?’ And I just said ‘yes’ and it went from there.
“I started playing at Solihull when I was six. I played there for a few years, then moved to Coventry when I was ten or 11. I started training with the ENL team at the time, and then the Blaze. Every other Tuesday I missed school to train with the Blaze and then when I left school I started playing with the team.
“My dad was the biggest influence when I first started playing, but my brother and sister also started playing at the same time. So, all three of us were always playing, obviously in different age groups, and they were a big influence too. They both still play now – my brother plays for the Telford Tigers NIHL 2 team and my sister plays in Australia for the Adelaide Rush.”
Once he arrived in Coventry, Venus joined the Blaze academy and progressed through the age-group teams to the senior side. How important was the academy in his on-ice development?
“The Blaze Academy was really important in my development,” he said. “I came to Coventry from Solihull and James Pease was really good coaching and getting me and David (Clements) on to the ENL team first. We were practicing with them as young kids, which really helped, and then we got into the Blaze system. That’s one of the reasons I never left.”
Did he always think he would make it as a professional hockey player? “David and I were always the two best players in the academy. I wasn’t sure where that would take us in terms of a professional level, but I knew there would be an opportunity there. I always hoped, and believed, I’d get to this level and have an impact. I used to wish on my birthdays for things like playing for GB when I blew the candles out on the cake.”
How did it feel breaking into the Blaze team at such a young age? “I kind of knew it was going to happen. It was kind of weird because I was training with the team for a couple of years prior to that and then I knew I was leaving school. But I was absolutely buzzing when the call-up came.”
As he reached the end of his school days, and with his sights set firmly on a career as an ice hockey player, Venus recognised that he would need to have something to fall back on once he had finished playing. But he was not sure what that something should be.
“When I was 16, I was a bit naïve,” he said. “I didn’t apply for any colleges or anything because I was just a young kid and I thought ‘I’m going to play hockey professionally’. My mum and dad forced me to go to college, but that was a last-minute thing. I got on a plumbing course. It was a one-day-a-week night course so it took me two years to complete that. I hated it,” he says with a small laugh. “But I thought I’ll stick in the same sort of field, so I then did a two-year course, one-day-a-week, at the same college doing building service engineering. I hated that too,” he laughs again.
“After that, I had a year off, thought about what I wanted to do, and then managed to do an undergraduate course in Sport Management at Coventry University, which I loved. Then I took another year off and did a Masters in Business. So, it’s always been there in the back of my mind that I need to do something for after hockey.”
How has his game developed over the past ten years? “When I was 16, before I started with the Blaze, I was the goalscorer, the most skilful guy on the team. Then being 16 years old and joining the professional team it was a case of trying to find my place, because obviously I wasn’t going to be that.
“I was meant to be sitting on the bench, but I was lucky in my first year because I ended up playing quite a lot because of injuries. I learned the defensive side of the game, because that’s not something you learn as a junior, really. There are little systems but nothing too much. I think I’ve always had a level of skill, and I think that’s got better as well, but my understanding of the game, both defensively and offensively, has been the major development.”
How have the various coaches he has played for in Coventry influenced him? “My first coach was Thommo [Paul Thompson]. He was really good with me,” he said. “He was the first coach to really teach me anything in terms of understanding the game. I learned a lot from him. Chuck Weber was very structured and very defensive-minded as a coach, so I learned a lot from him in terms of the defensive side of the game.
“Danny’s come in and he’s let me play a bit more freely offensively. Not that previous coaches didn’t let me play like that, but I was more focused on being reliable rather than being offensive. Now I’m trying to bring both those elements together in my game.”
What are the major differences in the Elite League now compared with a decade ago? “The standard of the league has definitely improved. Famously, in the first few months of my career with the Blaze there was a bench clearance against Nottingham. You don’t see those kinds of things any more. It was a lot more physical then, there were a lot more fights.
“Now there’s much more of a focus on skill and speed, which I think is the same with most leagues, but I think maybe the Elite League was a bit slow to catch up. More skilful players definitely want to come and play here now, whereas in the past it was probably seen as a bit of ‘meathead’ league.”
What’s made him stay at the Blaze for so long? “A combination of things. Obviously, I enjoy it here, I’m close to my family, I’ve been studying for a lot of those years in Birmingham and Coventry. I haven’t really felt the urge to leave,” he said.
How important is playing for GB to him? “It’s always been an aim to play for GB. Obviously, I made the team four years ago and was really excited about that. Four years without making the team has been really disappointing because you always want to be part of it. But you’ve got to use it as motivation to try and get back into the team.”
Does he remember much about his first call-up? “Yes. I think Chuck [Weber] called to tell me. It was the Olympic qualifiers in Italy [in 2016] and I think someone got injured late on and I only found out I was in the squad a few days before going. Obviously, I was buzzing. And to share that moment with Ash [former Blaze captain Ashley Tait] and Russ [Russell Cowley] as well, who I respected a lot and who both had an impact on my career, was really something.”
Later that same year he netted his first GB goal. “It was against Lithuania in Croatia in the World Championships playing on a line with Russ and Ash. It was a great feeling.”
Understandably, Venus was delighted to see his impressive season with the Blaze rewarded with a return to the GB set-up for the recent Olympic qualification tournament in Nottingham.
“Obviously, there’s a lot of good players gunning for those spots. It’s disappointing when you don’t make the team, but it’s kind of understandable too,” he said. “Then, after you get over the disappointment you watch the games like any other GB fan really and want the team to do well. It’s definitely something I feel I deserve this year and I’m happy to be back in the squad and hopefully I can stick around.”
What have been the highlights of his career so far? “Playing for GB is obviously the highest point on a personal level. And then domestically, for Coventry, it’s the 2015 play-off final. It’s the only championship we’ve won in the ten years I’ve been here and to win it as the sixth seed, which had never been done before, was a great achievement.”
Talk of that play-off final cannot pass without a mention of “that” goal which put the Blaze 3-0 in front on the way to a 4-2 win over the Sheffield Steelers. What was he thinking as he skated towards Steelers’ netminder Josh Unice?
“Just score,” he said. “You just zone out. I managed to pull a nice move and I don’t even remember the ten seconds after it. It was just pure adrenaline and excitement.”
What about any low points? “The year we didn’t make the play-offs  was disappointing. That was tough. We weren’t really a team that should have missed out on the play-offs. It sucked.”
So, after ten years as a professional what are his future hopes and ambitions? “Just to keep the trajectory that I’m on now,” he said. “Keep giving more offensive output, be a reliable player defensively for the team, and just doing whatever the team needs me to do. Obviously, with GB, I made the team for the Olympic qualifiers in February. I want to make the team for the World Championships in May and try and cement a place in the squad.”
And can we expect to see him on the ice for another ten years? “Probably not ten, but a few more years yet, for sure,” he said.